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Responding to Journalists’ Queries

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by Kate Siegel Bandos, KSB Promotions

Kate Siegel Bandos

Now that journalists have easy ways to ask authors and publishers (and the rest of the world) for information and expert advice, publishers and authors should take full advantage of them to get attention for their books and messages.

One of the most reliable places to find queries from journalists working on articles and/or books and from journalists looking for guests for radio and TV shows is HARO (Help A Report Out at www.helpareporter.com). Signing up for this service is free, and once you sign up, you will get e-mail three times a day with 20 to 50 queries on a wide range of topics.

You can request only certain kinds of queries—“business,” say, or “lifestyle” —but I find it is interesting to get a daily overview of stories being researched. Recently, for instance, there were queries on Biotech and Healthcare, Business and Finance, Education, Entertainment, Lifestyle and Fitness, and Travel. Other topics may include Political, Sports, and more.

There are very strict rules for those responding to these queries. If a journalist asks for recipes using chocolate and you respond with a recipe lacking that ingredient, you may find yourself blacklisted from the service. Also, you must send responses through HARO and not add any journalists or sites you encountered there to any database you have. Getting caught doing this can also result in blacklisting.

A similar service, ProfNet, is a part of PRNewswire (www.prnewswire.com/profnet/) and is offered exclusively to PRNewswire members who pay an annual fee. It has an additional feature—you can register experts and list detailed information about them, which lets journalists find the right experts without announcing their needs to the world.

Turnoffs to Avoid

Suppose a journalist posts, “What one, five, or ten things should someone do before buying their next home? I’m specifically looking for information about insurance and inspections. What do people forget to do and live to regret?”

Authors, experts, and/or their publicists must be quick, concise, and specific if they want their responses to edge out the hundreds of other responses the journalist will receive.

The problem comes when authors, publishers, publicists, and others aren’t concise and specific, and don’t respond quickly.

One journalist I know listed the kinds of responses that turn her and others off.

“All my HARO requests have listed the publication I’m writing for and indicated a quick deadline,” she told me, “but I’ve had people say:

  •  ‘What publication is this for?’
  •  ‘I have a client—do you want to talk to her?’
  •  ‘Send your e-mail to me so I can put you on my distribution list.’
  •  ‘Is this for a print or online publication?’
  •  ‘I’m just checking to see if you received my e-mail.’
  •  ‘Please send a copy of the article or link to me.’

And, the one I really love, ‘Are you going to use any of the information I sent?’
Oh, I guess that’s tied with, ‘We’ll want to approve the article before it’s published.’”

Continuing to vent, she reported that when she asked for images from a few people who responded, “They didn’t know what size I wanted when I said high-res; they sent the images to me instead of to the editors I said to send them to; and they sent the art as enclosures instead of attachments.”

“The ONLY reason to follow up,” she added, “is if something has happened. The expert won the Nobel Prize, had triplets without a doctor or anesthesia or on the North/South Pole, or died. Then it’s okay to say, ‘I have some news relating to the information I sent you last week…’”

“Annoy me enough,” my journalist friend wrote, “and you’ll go on my blacklist, although I may not block you because I want to know whom you represent, to make sure I don’t accidentally say something good about your clients.

“The other big error is to promise something and not deliver. If you say you’re going to do something, DO IT. Otherwise, that puts everybody you represent on my blacklist, too. Not fair? Maybe. Am I alone? Not by a long shot.”

The Better Way

I hope none of you is guilty of responding in any of these ways to journalists’ queries you access through HARO, ProfNet, or any other service. The journalists are offering you a golden chance to get attention by helping them finish or write a great story or fill an interview slot.

If you are really helpful very quickly, the next time they need an expert on your topic, they may come back to you—again and again. And becoming a journalist’s go-to person on your key subject is definitely a win-win situation.

Kate Siegel Bandos has been doing book publicity for more than 40 years, the past 25 through KSB Promotions (http://www.ksbpromotions.com ; kate@ksbpromotions.com). She reports that she has worked with thousands of books and authors, and can’t imagine how many media contacts she has made.

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